VIBRANT PAST ON DISPLAY
The SBS coverage of this year's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras promises to be a fitting tribute to the iconic event’s 40th anniversary
Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is primed to be one of the biggest parties of the year, and SBS has your all-access pass. The world-famous parade is in its 40th year, and if that wasn’t enough cause for celebration it’s also the first to be held since marriage equality was legalised in Australia.
“Because it is the 40th anniversary, we’re going on this walk down memory lane if you like,” journalist Patrick Abboud says. “We’ve found some incredible people who were part of some milestone moments of the past four decades getting us to where we are (today).”
Abboud will co-host SBS’s coverage alongside Yes campaigner and actor Magda Szubanski and comedians Joel Creasey and Urzila Carlson. The live broadcast, now in its fourth year on SBS, brings the marvel of the parade into homes across the country.
“There are thousands of people in small regional communities, and from diverse backgrounds, who can’t be there to celebrate or can’t be out and proud. The program takes it to them and makes them a part of it,” Abboud says.
But there’s much more to Mardi Gras than the costumes, floats and copious quantities of glitter. Abboud says it sends an important message of acceptance to isolated and marginalised LGBTQI people across the country.
“When you turn on the TV and you don’t see someone you can identify with it makes you feel like it’s not OK to be you,” he says.
“The more we have that visibility of general diversity on our screens and the wider media landscape then the more we’ll talk to those people who are really struggling.
“When the broadcast (of Mardi Gras) first went to air, I had people writing to me personally. There was one letter in particular from a young boy who is from a Middle Eastern background like me and he was contemplating suicide. He turned on the telly and saw this program, and he locked his bedroom door and put the volume down and watched it. He wrote this incredible letter which said thank you so much for making me see it’s OK to be who I am. In some sense you’ve saved me. That’s what this does; it’s not just putting the spectacle and sparkle and glitter on screen.”
Abboud has spent the past few months working on interviews and features which will air during the broadcast.
“A lot of the stories you’ll see are going back into a moment in time at a particular location with the person who was there and them telling us from their perspective how it happened,” he says.
“I took two of the most instrumental people from the ’78 event back to the cells they’d been kept in that night for the first time in 40 years. These are incredibly brave, resilient people with really special stories. More so than ever it’s important to remind people we’ve had a really genuine struggle.”
He will also interview headline performer Cher, whose music has been embraced by gay and lesbian communities around the world.
“I can’t say I’m a massive Cher fan, but I think it’s a great decision to bring her out,” he says. “If someone is going to celebrate 40 decades of Mardi Gras then it’s Cher. She’s iconic.
“She’s really ballsy and has sass, so I’m curious to see what the show is going to involve.”
Abboud hopes there will be just as much revelry in lounge rooms as in Kings Cross.
“Mardi Gras isn’t just for the queer community. It’s for everyone,” he says. “This is an incredible time to celebrate. I think this year’s event will have a phoenix-rising type feeling.” The 40th annual Sydney Mardi Gras airs on Sunday at 8.30pm on SBS
Patrick Abboud, Joel Creasey, Magda Szubanski and Urzila Carlson host SBS's coverage of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.